Old Things: The Vehicle by Which We Understand the Past

History is often described in the terms of people. Maybe it’s because history does not exist without the human need for it. Especially considering the original purposes of composing histories: teaching lessons and morals, it’s difficult to imagine the need or purpose of a history of an object without a human touch or need. While it is true that an object can hold a lesson for an audience without necessarily delving into human players or motivators, the history is still curated for the intent of human impact and consumption. I question whether the sciences even avoid a human-free narrative of objects, as the prompt suggests. There is still a very human-centric motive for researching, funding, and detail those objects. Even in the essay that is the scientific perimeters of the death of CRT, the consequences are clearly framed for humans. However, looking at old things creates an interesting shift in the historical lens. Since the object is new (to us) but with an identity once known,  the lesson doesn’t seem to be human centered… At least at first. Discovery is an important process to create a clear definition of the object so that you may, at some point, create a story with a well rounded and spelled out moral to learn from. Meaning creates understanding, and the most popular way to create meaning is to create similarity to self, which is the common motivator for human involvement in object history. This is why we have incredible stories utilizing objects that make us more aware of the story than we would be otherwise; we would be distracted by too many details to be...

(The Problem with) Old Things

Old things, while possibly full of historical or sentimental value, pose a serious dilemma; they take up space. Csikszentmihalyi touches on this when he writes that “This proliferation of artifacts would not be a problem were it not for the fact that objects compete with humans for scarce recources in the same ecosystem.” Mather and Lepawsky show this in their Atlantic article by discussing a specific object, the cathode ray tube, and how its former popularity (proliferation) and current status as an old thing (or junk) cause problems for humans; some of which include that CRTs take up space (by being stashed in warehouses) and pollute the earth (by leaking toxic chemicals into groundwater and creating breeding grounds for new bacteria). This of course has effects on areas of study that focus on the earth and its processes such as geology, ecology, and biology. So, in effect, how we treat old objects goes beyond just having a personal attachment to an item and can have profound impacts on the world around us. An obvious solution to this would be recycling (Mather and Lepawsky do touch on this), however, recycling e-waste is not as easily done as recycling other types of waste such as aluminum cans, paper, and plastics. According to this HowStuffWorks article, an item can either be down-cycled, used to make something of inferior quality, or up-cycled, used to make something of superior quality. But the possibility of up or down-cycling depends on the object and e-waste products typically have so many parts (many of which unfortunately are toxic) they usually can neither be down or up-cycled, only being able to be...

Old Things

What does it mean that we think of the CRT as something with a life– something that was born, lived, died? — Josh Lepawsky & Charles Mather proposed this question in their article “A Terminal Condition: The Cathode Ray Tube’s Strange Afterlife” We often use objects as a representation of time.  So, it makes sense that people would take this one step further and think of objects as having a life cycle. Children are taught from a very young age to think that their objects are born. Take cabbage patch dolls for example. These dolls are ‘born’ out of a cabbage patch at Babyland General where they are attended by ‘nurses’ and given birth certificates and then ‘adopted’ by children. Another example of training children to treat objects like they are alive is the infamous Tamagotchi. A toy that eats, poops, and need  love and attention, but it can also die.  The toy’s life literally depends on you which in turn creates nurturing feelings toward an object giving them a life of their own. According to the article “Why We Were Addicted to Our Tamagotchis” by Vice explains that “The Tamagotchi had “a prosthetic of presence” that made it less of a toy than an extension of self.” These toys make us feel nurturing and protective toward them, so we give them human characteristics to justify the feelings. So if we are taught objects are born, then they must also  die. For example, have you ever said…     “My phone died” You know your phone is not dead and gone forever, but instead of saying the phone battery isn’t charged, people say...
Blog Post #4: Old Things

Blog Post #4: Old Things

What is the difference between studying objects to learn human stories and studying them to learn their own stories? Is there one? To an extent, Prown, Czikszentmihalyi, and Belk (“Possessions and the Extended Self,” reading for Week 5), although they draw upon knowledge and methodologies from a wide variety of disciplines, nonetheless seem to approach material culture studies as an avenue to learn about human culture and human histories through the study of objects. In another essay that we will read a bit later in the semester, “Parting Ways” by James Deetz, we will look at how histories that have been obscured by the written public record can be recovered through careful analyses of objects and archaelogical sites. As it begins, however, the essay, “A Terminal Condition: The Cathode Ray Tube’s Strange Afterlife,” by Josh Lepawsky and Charles Mather, seems to offer a different sort of teleology, or aim, for its analysis: “Rust in peace,” ministered the New York Times in its 2009 catalogue of obsolescence for the aughts. The obvious play on words conjoins an industrial mythos with a Christian burial rite in a requiem for an object that had, not long before, been the primary screen on which many of us experienced television, video, and computing. What does it mean that we think of the CRT as something with a life—something that was born, lived, died? In its title and with its three opening paragraphs, the essay promises to give us a history of the object itself. It provokes us with a question, about what it means to think of inanimate things as having a birth, a life, and...
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